CHS English 101
22 March 2014
Racial Formation through American Literature
In America, the “melting pot” process has been associated with cultural assimilation. In American History, assimilation is the system in which an individual or minority group loses its initial culture when dominated by another culture. With all different ethnic groups in our country, there is no surprise that different individuals view racial and culture identity differently. American writers, exclusively, depict their views of racial pride. While Langston Hughes and Charles W. Chesnutt seek to depict the value in pride of black culture in their literature, Amy Tan writes about the cultural struggles she faces through her mother and everyday life. In Langston Hughes’ essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, Hughes expresses his concern of a black poet who is embarrassed of his own identity. The poet tells Hughes he wants to be a poet, not a Negro poet. He is discouraged of his cultural identity and not proud of his racial heritage. In this essay, Hughes realizes that many people of his kind felt this way. They were uncomfortable in their own skin. Hughes voices his concerns about people, specifically black artists, who try to comply with “American Standardization”. American Standardization is defined as the mountain wedged between Negro art and the Negro poet. Like Langston Hughes states: “But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible” (Hughes “The Negro Artist”). Some African Americans believed being white would lead a more relaxed and happy lifestyle. This view on their racial and cultural identities puts a limitation of artistic expression in black culture. Langston Hughes pushed for more pride within one’s identity. “The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain” was written years ago and still stands true today. In America, black societies have been brainwashed to believe a particular image is sufficient as an African American. This image goes against what is false to the roots of African Americans. Hughes is persuading people to defend and stand up for black identity and culture. Likewise, to rid the barrier that keeps black people from being proud of who they truly are. Racial discrimination existed in crude and flagrant forms. During a time where racial conflicts between white and blacks were at its high, Langston Hughes embraces his roots and heritage. Hughes was a man that was true to himself and his culture. He spoke up for his people and claimed that we are all individuals. He wanted his audience, black or white, to respect and love one another instead of trying to change each other.
In Amy Tan’s short story, “Mother Tongue”, Tan discusses the cultural and racial struggles she faces through her mother and everyday life. Her Chinese mother has difficulties communicating the English language, but can understand it perfectly. Throughout this short story, many people look down upon Tan’s mother because of her “broken” English. Because of this, Tan is forced to speak to authority figures for her mother because her English is clearer. In the beginning of “Mother Tongue”, Tan is very embarrassed of her mother and states: “I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother's "limited" English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect. And I had plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her” (Tan “Mother...
Cited: Chesnutt, Charles. “The Passing of Grandison” The Norton Anthology of American Literature.
Shorter 7th ed. Vol. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2008. 472-483. Print.
Chesnutt, Charles. “Wife of His Youth.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter
7th ed. Vol. 2. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2008. 464-472. Print.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Blair Reader: Exploring issues and ideas. 8th ed. Ed.
Laurie G. Kriszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 134-39. Print
Hughes, Langston. Nelson, Cary, and Batholomew Brinkman, eds. Modern American Poetry.
Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999. Web. 23 Mar.
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